Only two paths are therefore open before present society.|
One is the path of Fascism.
The other is the path of Communism.
-R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution (1934)
This story is not pretty. It is shocking and brutal. It is the story of fascism, a monumental attack by the desperate capitalists upon the international working class.
Modern fascism came into its own in 1918, after World War I. In 1945, it absorbed a crushing defeat from workers, many millions of them led by communists. By the end of this first period of modern fascism, the fascist overlords were annihilated.
In Hungary, a virulent form of fascism developed in response to a failed revolution. In 1918, workers took to the streets against the Hapsburg monarchy and the handful of barons that had ruled the country for centuries. Inspired by the magnificent example of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Hungary’s working class turned to communists to lead a revolution. In March 1919, in the capital city of Budapest, a united front of working-class forces, including the untrustworthy social democrats but under the leadership of the Communist Party, seized power and declared a Hungarian Soviet Republic. For five months, these heroic workers fought against the old ruling class, the new capitalists, the petty bourgeoisie, and expeditionary armies from Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and France intent on crushing the communists.
For a time, the working class controlled many districts of Hungary. But the powerful forces arrayed against them, a betrayal by the social democrats, and the vacillations of top communist leaders led to the defeat of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In August 1919, the capitalist armies of Rumania and France, in league with a Hungarian “National Army” under the right-wing Admiral Miklos Horthy, crushed the Hungarian Soviet Republic in a bloodbath.
FASCISM AS THE OUTCOME OF MODERN CAPITALISM
In 1933, the Nazis took power in Germany. Within months, the entire nation was under the heel of these fascist cutthroats. Big business reigned supreme, and the largest communist party in the capitalist world was systematically destroyed. The victorious advance of fascism in Italy, Portugal, Hungary, and Japan now reached a climax.
The Communist International, or Comintern, had to ponder the reasons for these defeats. In 1934, R. Palme Dutt, a leading comrade in the Communist Party of Great Britain, published his Fascism and Social Revolution. As a reference point, Progressive Labor Party defines fascism as a period of capitalism in economic and political crisis that can be resolved only by war. Inter-imperialist rivalry over resources and markets leads to more desperate competition among the bosses of leading national powers. As these bosses prepare for larger wars, they can no longer rule within the constraints of liberal democracy, the mythology that masks the reality of the capitalists’ absolute class dictatorship. “Free and fair elections,” “the rule of law,” “due process,” constitutions, independent unions—all must be abandoned or obliterated. The bosses have no choice but to ruthlessly discipline or eliminate opposing factions within their own class. They’re also forced to normalize state terror, and to use more overt, vicious racism—typically culminating in mass murder—to attack and divide the working class. To survive, the fascist bosses must command workers’ loyalty to their nationalist war agenda.
Dutt used dialectical materialism to show that fascism is the natural and logical form of government for declining monopoly capitalism, just as liberalism had been the natural scaffolding for expanding competitive capitalism. The clash of ideas and parties in liberal democracy corresponds to a stage of capitalism marked by technical progress and marketplace competition. The regimented terror and decadence of fascism corresponds to a concentrated monopoly in the marketplace and the anti-scientific depravity of the capitalist class in the 1930s, and increasingly so today. If one accepts Dutt’s premises, a communist party must rule out any strategy based on the defense of liberal democracy.
Dutt began with a description of the crisis of capitalism:
- Capital can no longer utilize the full labor power of the productive population. Monopoly capitalism is more and more visibly choking the whole organization of production. “Today they are burning wheat and grain; the means of human life. Tomorrow they will be burning living human bodies,” Dutt wrote prophetically.
- Scientific and technical advances are increasingly rejected by the capitalist class. This decadence expresses itself in the growing revolt against science, reason, cultural development, and liberal philosophy, all characteristic of ascendant capitalism. In their place, the capitalists turn to religion, spiritualism, mysticism, anti-scientific illusions, and racism.
- Bourgeois parliamentary democracy has outlived its usefulness: “It is clear that liberal democracy has played out its historical role.”
- Trade is restricted. Free trade is the lifeblood of expanding capitalism, confident of its strength. Trade restrictions and thinly disguised trade wars are the hallmark of decaying capitalism. Under full-blown fascism, war becomes national policy.
- Social democrats and labor misleaders will sell out the working class. Since they oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat, these class traitors inevitably end up in bed with the fascists.
Does this mean that fascism can’t be beaten? On the contrary, says Dutt: “Fascism is not inevitable. Fascism only becomes inevitable if the working class follows the line of reformism, of trust in the capitalist state.’’ In other words, the fight against fascism cannot trust liberal democracy and its anti-worker leadership. To preach confidence in liberal democracy--in legalism or constitutionalism—is to guarantee the victory of fascism.
Summing up, Dutt said:
One year later, in 1935, the 7th Congress of the Comintern met to consider the communist response to the fascist offensive. In the Comintern’s main report, Georgi Dimitrov backed away from the sharpest conclusions in Dutt’s book. He ignored the roots of fascism in liberal democracy. He left unmentioned Dutt’s thesis that fascism is the inevitable form of government for modern capitalism.
Dutt had argued for a tactical fight against the fascistization of the liberal regimes, but only toward the primary goal of organizing a communist revolution. Dimitrov made the rescue of liberal democracy primary and revolution secondary. He proposed an anti-fascist united front with the treacherous social democratic leaders, a strategy that would have disastrous consequences.
THE RISE OF FASCISM IN THE 1930s
In the early 1930s, Spain resembled Italy in 1919. Though its ruling class was too weak to rule, the working class lacked the bold and authoritative leadership that could take advantage of such favorable conditions. The Spanish Communist Party (CP) was very small. It constructed a Popular Front with the Socialist Party, anarchists, and liberal Republicans. (In Spain, “Republicans” were defenders of the republic and opponents of the monarchy and fascists.) The 1936 elections were a humiliating defeat for the Falange and seemingly a big victory for the communist “united front” line proposed by Dimitrov eight months earlier. The new Popular Front government refused to arm the workers and did nothing to change the fundamentals of state power.
The Falange, a fascist party, was financed by ruling-class figures and institutions. Its program was a typical mix of radical-sounding, reformist demands, anti-communism, and nationalism. The leading general of the Spanish Army, Franco launched a fascist coup, triggering a protracted civil war.
Without a unified, aggressive central leadership, the Republicans, despite their heroism and the revolutionary energy of the working class, went from defeat to defeat. Help came from the Comintern in the form of International Brigades of anti-fascist volunteers from communist parties in 53 countries, along with military equipment and advisors from the Soviet Union.
Franco’s forces would have collapsed early in the war without aid from Germany and Italy. The fascist air force was entirely German and Italian. Meanwhile, the British government consistently sabotaged consistently the Republican effort. In the U.S., the Roosevelt administration never wavered in its refusal to sell arms to the Republicans.
Among its most serious errors, the Communist Party in Spain failed to engage in the fight against racism. No communist aid ever reached workers in Morocco or other colonial subjects of the Spanish ruling class. The Party was weakest in the areas with national minorities—in the Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalan.But the Party’s biggest weakness was the Popular Front and the weak political line of the Comintern. That communists fought as Republicans rather than as revolutionaries. Instead of channeling all efforts toward communist revolution, the Party focused on securing its alliance with the socialists and the liberal Republicans.
The Spanish Civil War was a big defeat for the united front policy, but not for communism. Spain will never forget the help from the world communist movement and the International Brigades. These heroic volunteers helped to block the fascist advance in Spain for nearly three crucial years. As long as the Nazi military machine was tied down in Spain, its long-planned war against the Soviet Union had to be delayed. The resistance in Spain trained the leaders of the peoples’ armies that would smash the fascist hordes in the world war to come.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) joined in a united front—indeed, in a united government—with the fascist Kuomintang (KMT), which had come to power as part of a nationalist government. They were supposed to unite to fight the fascist invasion from Japan.
But here the similarity with the Spanish Civil War ends. Because the CPC corrected its error. The underground was painfully reconstituted. Even after three successive Party leaders in Shanghai were executed by the KMT, a secure organization was eventually built there and in other cities.
In the countryside, a Red army was slowly built until it controlled many rural areas. In the winter of 1930, the KMT sent 100,000 troops to “mop up” the Red Army; the KMT was mopped up instead. Additional drives in 1933 and 1934 involving one million fascist troops were unable to destroy the CPC or prevent the Red Army from growing. None of these victories would have been possible if the CPC had not corrected its huge error of cooperating with the KMT. Only communists can defeat fascists.
The fascist movements in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada were less significant than those in Europe, Asia, and South America. Nonetheless, the 1930s ushered in significant rightward changes, including increased repression by police organs. The role of Roosevelt’s New Deal in the U.S. was to concentrate more power in a growing national bureaucracy, thus making fascism possible. Mexico and Canada saw similar developments.
Why didn’t full-blown fascism develop in North America in that period? First, capitalism younger, still expanding, and more competitive than in Europe. Second, U.S. imperialism, the chief beneficiary of World War I, was still living off its imperialist loot. A final crucial reason was that the communist and left-led labor movement went on the offensive in all three countries.
Poland and Rumania
In these two Eastern European nations, the capitalist ruling class chose to be swallowed by foreign fascism than to ally with the Soviet Union. By 1941, nearly the entire capitalist world fell under fascist domination. Only U.S. and British capitalism proved strong enough to face the crisis and maintain their liberal democratic regimes. But these imperialists chose to concede the rest of the world to fascism. The policy of united front had turned to dust.
The Rise of Fascism Today
With capitalism worldwide in a spiraling political and economic crisis, the international working class has fallen under escalating attacks. The current political crisis is driven by inter-imperialist rivalry—by the decline of U.S. imperialism as the dominant world power and the rise of the Chinese capitalist rulers. The world’s deepening economic crisis reflects the collapse of globalism and free trade, accentuated by the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In every corner of the globe, the capitalists are being tested by rivals both internal and external. The old liberal world order, defined by U.S. dominance and the U.S. Seventh Fleet, is collapsing. Chinese imperialism is expanding around the world, investing vast sums of capital to tie smaller ruling classes to the Chinese bosses for decades to come. The Chinese Navy, now the world’s largest, is challenging the U.S. for control of the Pacific. As the bosses battle, the bodies of the working class are piling up across the globe.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. imperialists have dominated the world economically and militarily. But as finance capital has become the main form of U.S. capitalism, the closing of factories and the movement of production to other countries has taken a toll on the U.S. ruling class, even as their profits have skyrocketed. A string of lost wars and military debacles, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, have weakened the U.S. politically while draining its treasury. While the U.S. bosses spent billions in a failed attempt to keep control of the Middle East, their Chinese rivals constructed an industrial powerhouse and are now building a military to match.
Within the U.S., deindustrialization has broken the ties between finance capital and much of the white working class, leading to a significant shift of working-class loyalties away from the main wing bosses and the Democratic Party. This alienation has been exploited by the finance capitalists’ domestic rivals, a group of bosses whose fortunes are driven by U.S. oil production and domestic industry, and who are fronted by “America First” isolationists in the Republican Party. In their weakened and internally divided state, the finance capitalists are struggling to act decisively in combatting their challengers. Their control over critical parts of the state apparatus—including the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court—has either been lost or is in jeopardy. This tenuous situation cannot hold.
In periods of capitalist in crisis, war becomes the primary form of capitalist politics. In Europe, inter-imperialist rivalry has degraded into a massively destructive conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and counting. In the Pacific, open warfare between the U.S. and Chinese bosses seems imminent. If and when it erupts, it threatens to draw in a host of other countries.
Fascism in China, Russia, and Iran
As world war looms and the world economy breaks down, fascism becomes the last card the capitalist bosses can play to stay afloat. To prepare for war, the bosses must clamp down on their rivals and force production to be geared toward military needs. Rival capitalist factions, along with working-class dissent, becomes less tolerated. The bosses’ state reacts to perceived threats more viciously. The old rules of liberal democracy are set aside.
In short, fascism is becoming the dominant form of capitalist rule around the world. It is growing unevenly but swiftly. China, Russia, and Iran have for decades been ruled by varying forms of state capitalism. Since the bosses in these countries don’t rely on liberal democracy to settle their internal disputes, fascism has developed more quickly and brutally in these countries. Their rulers have shut down U.S.-backed opposition and disciplined rival factions of bosses. Even so, some pushback against the ruling circles persisted, at least until recently. Iran had hardline and soft-line factions that competed in elections and debated policy differences. Russia had opposition media, representing both a more strident nationalist wing and a wing that argued for more unity with the U.S.
The war in Ukraine marked a significant acceleration in the development of fascism in Russia. At the war’s outset, there were large demonstrations in most major cities. Almost immediately, the Russian ruling class enacted a series of domestic security laws that led to mass arrests of anti-war protesters and the shuttering of anti-government media. The result was a mass exodus of anti-government forces—including, it appears, the bulk of pro-U.S. forces in the country.
In Iran, the main internal threat to the ruling class has come from mass movements organized by the U.S. bosses. The anti-hijab movement has enlisted perhaps millions of people in at least passive support. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in open rebellion against the state. The Iranian ruling class has met the threat with extreme violence, shooting unarmed protesters and hanging movement leaders. Similarly, the rulers have consolidated around the anti-U.S. position and sidelined their soft liberal wing.
China has the most highly developed fascist state in the world. Over the last ten years, Chinese billionaires have been routinely taken into custody, only to be released with a newfound commitment to supporting the state. Under the current ruling faction headed by President Xi Jinping, the military has been charged with investigating corruption. This gives the ruling bosses direct control over production—literally at the barrel of a gun. Their one lingering internal threat is a wave of sporadic but persistent uprisings from the vast low-wage working class against slave-labor conditions and forced resettlement to suit the needs of production.
The tightening of the iron fist is a hallmark of fascism. As the profit system falls into growing crisis, the bosses rely more and more on terror to maintain their power. But fear alone is not enough to ready a society for war. China, Russia, and Iran all rely on mass nationalist movements to build broader support for the ruling class. In China, tens of millions participate in “Red” tourism that celebrates the history of the Chinese Communist Party and attacks U.S. imperialism. In Russia, nationalism has enabled the ruling class to draft up to half a million new soldiers in the midst of a high-casualty war. In Iran, the bosses have sustained their historic base by building anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiment. There is no internal logic to fascist nationalism. Russia’s capitalist bosses both hail and attack the old Soviet Union as it suits their needs of the moment. The Chinese extoll Mao even as they celebrate the development of capitalism. In both Russian and China, there is vicious, open, everyday racism against Black workers, even as their ruling classes attack U.S. imperialism for its own genocidal racist and colonialist history.
Liberal Democracies Now Dominated by Fascism
Beyond China, Russia, and Iran, fascism is growing in countries that have until recently been liberal democracies—in Europe, in particular, but also in Asia and Latin America. Poland, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden all now have governments led by openly fascist parties. In France and Germany, openly fascist parties are the main opposition to governments led by frail liberal parties. India is ruled by a government that is openly racist and conducts violent attacks against Muslim workers.
Poland, now hailed as a staunch U.S. ally, has disbanded its supreme court, shut down opposition parties, and consolidated control under the leadership of the openly racist ruling party. Hungary, a staunch ally of Russia, has done the same. In Italy and Sweden, anti-immigrant ruling parties, direct descendants of the fascist movements of the early 20th century, are being welcomed into the pro-U.S. fold.
In Asia, Israel has long been a liberal democracy for Jewish workers and an apartheid state for Arab workers. The latest Netanyahu regime is moving to undermine the supreme court and consolidate power under a party leadership backed by an openly racist movement. Over the last fifteen years, Turkey
has become more openly fascist with the Erdogan government’s consolidation of power violent shutdown of any opposition. What’s left of Turkey’s liberal democracy is essentially run by its military.
In Mexico, with the backing of a mass workers’ movement, the Lopez Obrador government is moving to tighten its ruling party control by hobbling the country’s electoral commission. In South America, Brazil and Peru are now feeble democracies with large fascist movements.
In Africa, where imperialism has historically built severely oppressive governments as a means of control, the weak democracies the U.S. once sought to promote are being replaced. Today, the number of Africans living under authoritarian states is higher than it’s been for most of the last twenty years. Before Covid-19, a growing number of African heads of state were hard at work to undermine elections. The pandemic accelerated this shift away from liberal democracy. It created an excuse to shut down elections in Somalia and Ethiopia, muzzle opposition figures in Uganda and Tanzania, and restrict media across the continent.
In fact, fascism is growing so rapidly around the world that Joe Biden’s speechwriters have had to take notice. In his latest appeals for building a coalition to take on China and Russia, Biden has stopped using the term “democracy” to describe the U.S. side and replaced it with the more ambiguous “freedom.”
Fascism is the Future of U.S. Capitalism
The U.S. ruling class is being strained to the breaking point by the economic and political crisis of capitalism. The war in Ukraine has already cost them over $100 billion. Their infrastructure is in tatters; inflation is wreaking havoc. The U.S. banking system is verging on a meltdown. The once high-flying tech industry has laid off more than 100,000 workers, with more to come. As workers’ real income continues to shrink, retail looks to be the next industry to drastically downsize.
As main rival China moves to a war footing, the infighting between dueling capitalist factions is paralyzing the U.S. ruling class and dividing the workers the bosses need for its short-staffed military. The U.S. Army fell 30 percent short of its recruitment goals for 2022 and is already lagging for 2023. With all signs pointing to wider war, the U.S. bosses are not ready politically, militarily, or industrially.
While we cannot be certain which capitalist faction will come out on top, or whether the two sides will cut a deal, all signs point to drastic political changes to meet the needs of the U.S. ruling class. Although the bosses are still ruling under the guise of liberal democracy, and neither side is yet ready to jettison elections, they are laying the political basis to move closer toward full-blown fascism. Main wing media, including the New York Times, have decided that even a façade of impartiality poses too big a risk to the system. Judges are openly declaring that the law is not blind, and that they too must take sides in the battle. Liberal democracy in the U.S. continues to run on fumes only because neither faction is yet ready for civil war—and, for the most part, the working class has responded with passivity to attacks from the ruling class. But what happens when the railroad workers won’t let Biden shove a contract down their throats? Or when a president ignores a ruling by the Supreme Court? The U.S. ruling class will keep moving toward fascism because it has no choice.
This article has reviewed three lessons from the struggle to defeat fascism between 1934 and 1945. They remain important today.
FIRST LESSON: Fascism is the natural tendency of the decadent monopoly capitalist class. Even the few capitalist nations that avoided full-blown fascism, such as the U.S., Britain, and Canada, saw the rise of mass fascist movements financed by big business. No less important, they dramatically strengthened their central state apparatus. The tendency of modern capitalism to move toward fascism is an inexorable law of modern development.
SECOND LESSON: Liberal democracy leads to fascism as surely as any other process of social development. Dimitrov’s defense of liberal democracy was essentially a defense of the roots of fascism. In every case, it led to disastrous results. In France and Spain, popular front governments severely handicapped the workers’ struggle against fascism.
THIRD LESSON: The only alternative to fascism is communism. It follows that only communists can lead the struggle to defeat fascism. We have seen how both liberals and conservatives paved the way for fascism and joined the fascists’ governments. We have seen how revisionist social democrats caved in to fascism at every turn, apologized for it, even preferred it to the “Bolshevik menace.”
Even after fascism was defeated in World War II, the problem was that capitalism remained—decadent monopoly capitalism. The fascist weed was cut down, but its roots remained to sprout new varieties in the postwar world. As long as capitalism exists, fascism will inevitably spring up out of liberal democracy in crisis.
In this critical period, the working class is faced with a stark choice between two paths. One follows the bosses into the hell of war and fascism. The other is the path of communist revolution. It’s the road to smashing capitalism and building an egalitarian society led by and for the working class.